SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There are senators, governors Congresspeople, businesspeople and a spiritual leader running for the Democratic nomination for president, and one mayor, so far. I sat down with Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., at a local diner this week for Off Script, NPR's series that brings undecided voters to the table with presidential candidates. Mayor Buttigieg has raised a lot of money and is getting a lot of attention for the mayor of a medium-sized town.
The United States is a country with more than 300 million people. It has a budget of hundreds of trillions of dollars. With respect to your service to your country in the reserve and service to the city here as mayor, you have been mayor of a city of about 100,000 people. Do you have the experience to be president of the United States?
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Yes. My experience is being on the ground dealing with the kinds of issues that you deal with in executive leadership and government. Look; I get the daunting nature of the office. There's also the case that none of the candidates for the presidency right now has been president except one, Donald Trump, who I think is actually the least qualified of all. You know, there's something to be said for longevity. But I also think there's something to be said for being newer on the scene and not having spent too much time in Washington. You know, I sometimes wonder if I'd be getting that question if I were a member of Congress or the Senate even at my age. I probably would be less likely to get it. And yet, the truth is...
SIMON: I would ask a first-term....
BUTTIGIEG: OK, fair enough.
SIMON: ...Member of Congress, do you have the experience.
BUTTIGIEG: But here's the thing. You could also be a very tenured member of Congress, you could be a very senior senator in the United States, and have never in your life been responsible for more than 100 people depending on what you were doing before. You know, the experience of members of legislatures is to vote on legislation - very important, but also very different from running a city of any size, which I would argue in America - perhaps, especially in a relatively - not one of the biggest cities and certainly not one of the wealthiest cities - gives you a sense of the challenges that are confronting Americans on the ground.
SIMON: What about foreign policy? You speak to one degree or another several foreign languages. And you've served overseas in the U.S. military. But foreign policy wouldn't seem to be an area where you have a lot of direct experience.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I'd say one of the reasons that I have weighed in more extensively on foreign policy and have built, I think, the strongest foreign policy team of any candidate is that I care deeply about these issues. And I have seen firsthand through international experience what's at stake in our international relationships. And as somebody who experienced foreign policy in the form of being sent into a war but also as somebody who experiences it as someone responsible for a city that is impacted by these choices, I want there to be a foreign policy that makes sense as a kind of foreign policy for places like South Bend, which - if we're getting it right on trade, if we're getting it right on security for getting it right on our values, if we're getting it right on immigration - then that benefits our communities. That's the perspective I bring to it.
SIMON: May I try another question? You are married to a real social-media celebrity.
SIMON: Your husband Chasten has really taken off. But I have to raise a question with you because I was hoping not to ask anything about orientation. But as you know, there's some polling information recently reported by The New York Times that says the fact that you're a man married to another man might be causing some reservations and misgivings, specifically among African American voters in South Carolina. The quote that came back in the Times was a marriage should be between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Wonder what you would say to voters who have that reservation.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think that that perspective, it's so simplifying and I think not fair to a diversity of views among African Americans and among a lot of people who are Democrats who may have come up in a socially conservative background but are also on a journey, as the country is. You know, right here in South Bend, we didn't know what would happen when I came out. We knew it was a fairly democratic city but also a socially conservative city. And I was just - I was ready, and it was time. And we did it in a reelection year. And I wound up getting 80% of the vote. It was better that time than I did the first time around.
I think the question that voters are asking is, how's my life going to be different if you're president? And in order to earn votes, my job is to go out there and answer that question. And I think a lot of the other stuff falls away if and only if you have a good answer to that question.
SIMON: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president. And we should note that The New York Times reports that information came from an internal Buttigieg campaign memo on focus groups it held with two dozen uncommitted black voters. You can hear more of our conversation elsewhere in the show. And you can watch online at NPR.org/offscript. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.